Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Major Hong Kong Protest ; Pro-Democracy Activists Filled the Streets on Sunday, Calling for One Man, One Vote

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Major Hong Kong Protest ; Pro-Democracy Activists Filled the Streets on Sunday, Calling for One Man, One Vote

Article excerpt

Reports that this city's democracy movement was dead appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

An unexpected turnout of as many as 250,000 marchers here Sunday is a clear repudiation of pro-Beijing policies that would stall if not kill democratic aspirations in Hong Kong. It also speaks to the vibrancy of a grass-roots democratic awakening that had been slumbering in China's most developed commercial city. Had Sunday's turnout been low, it could have sunk the democracy movement.

The protest, which filled Hong Kong's downtown on this breezy afternoon, was sparked by a proposal that would indefinitely delay a much-desired introduction of a "one man, one vote" system. It was also fed by statements from Hong Kong tycoons that the city wasn't mature enough to govern itself.

The march was a culmination of growing polarization between popular desire for speedy democracy and the Beijing-backed government of Donald Tsang. It sets the stage for future collisions between Tsang and the democrats.

All sides were calling Dec. 4 a "crossroads." Indeed, Sunday's march may prove as significant as the July 1, 2003, march of 500,000 residents that ultimately drove Mr. Tsang's predecessor out of office and gave birth to a democracy movement centered in the legal profession.

Beijing, concerned with stability, has long been wary of a full- fledged democracy movement. The news wires of the official Xinhua news agency in Beijing did not have a Chinese-language report of the event, but an English-language version described "a few" protesters. Police stated that the number was only 63,000.

Unlike previous marches, Sunday's crowd was focused solely on democracy issues, not on social or pocketbook concerns, or attacks on their chief executive. Instead, many people identified the political system itself as a main grievance. Ipod-carrying students, parents, businessmen, and retirees - virtually all articulated specific democratic principles like universal suffrage. Later, Tsang remarked that demonstrators had expressed "passion," and said that he wanted to see universal suffrage "in his time." But his opponents charge that his proposals will severely diminish that prospect.

Crowds rejected Tsang's bid to reshape politics in a way that would expand the role of officeholders appointed by the chief executive - one way Beijing influences local politics. The package would double the 800-member committee that picks a leader and expand the 60-member legislature.

"Hong Kong people want no more [political] appointments.... For us to accept more appointments is a regression, it is not progressive," said a businessman in tennis shoes. "It puts us further from democracy, not closer."

"People are not here to oppose Donald Tsang," says Tony Tong, a tourism executive. "They are here to oppose the system. …

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